STEAM activities for the Early Childhood Classroom

STEAM Activities

Looking for STEAM activities to challenge your children?

I designed 30 STEAM activities presented as stimulus prompt cards. They engage and challenge my children as they explore concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM activities take STEM activities to the next level. The A (Arts) gives children the opportunity to develop their creative thinking skills alongside their critical thinking skills.

STEAM classroom

Why teach STEAM?

STEAM activities are gaining popularity in today’s classrooms.  They give children opportunities to develop the skills that will be essential in their future. Employers will be sourcing workers with STEAM capabilities. It makes sense to be developing these skills early.

The STEAM curriculum is highly engaging. Children love the challenges of solving problems and approach these activities with enthusiasm.  The activities provide opportunities for hands-on learning and integrate seamlessly into the play based classroom.

Another benefit of incorporating STEAM activities into the classroom is the social aspect. Children are encouraged to collaborate to solve a problem and create a new way of expressing their ideas. Both social skills and oral language skills are always a focus in an early childhood classroom and STEAM challenges are an ideal way to foster them.

The process of working together allows children to learn from each and see solutions they may not have independently thought of. Higher order thinking skills are developed through STEAM activities and include both critical and creative thinking skills.

It’s important to remember the process is the focus of any STEAM activity. The end product is not as important as how it was created. The journey is where the learning happens.

The beauty of STEAM activities is that everyone has something to offer. Everyone can succeed. The activities are innately differentiated. As they do in play, children will work in their zone of proximal development.

What it Looks Like in My Classroom

Whole Class STEAM Challenges

Once a week I timetable in a whole class STEAM challenge. I display the specific prompt straight from the .pdf file onto our interactive panel.

Sometimes the children work individually but more often I have them work with a friend. I like them working collaboratively. Sometimes the children choose their partner and sometimes I choose for them. I usually tell the children who their partner will be as I have noticed if a more able student works with a less able, everyone stays engaged and greater learning takes place.

STEAM prompt for whole class lesson

Later in the year, after the children are familiar with the STEAM activities, I might put 3 children together. However, this changes the whole dynamics and sometimes has one child as a spectator so I prefer groups of 2. Collaboration is important as social skills are fostered during STEAM work.

Link STEAM to the Curriculum

I plan a STEAM challenge with the curriculum learning intentions in mind. I decide if I want a Math, English or Science focus. Here are a few examples of some of our challenges:

Math

  • How many ways can you represent this number using these resources?
  • How many ways can you represent this shape?
  • Use these materials to make a ruler.
  • Use the materials to make a tool to measure length.

 

English

  • Use these resources to make this book character.
  • Make the setting from this book with these resources.
  • Design an object that has the /ow/ sound in its name.

 

I set a time limit on their working time. This helps with engagement and creates a sense of urgency. When the timer goes, we all down tools and I nearly always get complaints! I set the timer for 15 to 20 minutes and give 5 minute and 1 minute warnings.  Before I press start on the timer, I remind children to think about how they will be representing their knowledge. I like to give the partners a chance to discuss and plan first.

What resources should you offer?

The resources I provide are planned and already prepared. If I’m organised, they are compiled into clip-lock bags. At other times, I put trays or baskets containing the resources around the room and the children are given time to collect the supplies themselves. This happens before the timer starts. Always check each group has the correct supplies before that timer starts.

I have compiled a comprehensive list of resources that I use for my STEAM challenges. You can download the full list for FREE in my Resource Library. If you would like a couple of pages from the full list, I have a sample here.

I use resources that are readily available in early childhood classrooms and if not, they can be purchased cheaply.

DOWNLOAD a Free sample of My Teaching Cupboard's FREE STEAM Resources List
List of easily accessible classroom resources I use in my STEAM Challenges.
Full List of STEAM Resources

If you liked the sample list of resources, you might like to join My Teaching Cupboard’s Email Group. I don’t send out emails very often though. You will get access to my FREE Resource Library when you sign up. In the FREE Resource LIbrary, you’ll find the full STEAM resource list along with some other resources I know you’ll find useful.

4 Steps in Planning Resources

1. Building Base: When planning the resources to provide in a STEAM activity, I always have 1 or 2 construction materials. These act as a building base. Paper, card or playdough are common. I have many more options in the free download list though. You can easily alter these base materials by changing their attributes. Think about changing the size, shape, colour or texture of paper offered.

2. Joiners: Next, I’ll choose something the children can use to join the base materials. Glue, tape, string or wire perhaps. Again, these can be altered. Glue could be either a glue stick, PVA in a squeeze bottle or maybe a tub of Clag. Tape might be cello-tape, masking tape or washi tape. These are usually included in their clip-lock bag but sometimes I will just tell the children they are free to use glue if they wish. It is interesting to see which glue they use when given that option.

3. Tools: Then I add something that can alter the base building material. Scissors or paper punches might be an option for paper and card. If you are having a focus on measuring in Math, add a ruler as a tool. Pop sticks and toothpicks make great little tools to alter playdough.

4. Creative Oddball: Finally, I add a creative oddball. This inclusion takes the activity from a STEM to a STEAM challenge. I’ll usually look at the collage trolley for some inspiration. I might include a black and a white feather, or 3 pompoms of different sizes, or maybe even all of these. The children are not always required to use every resource I provide unless of course I make that a rule at the start. They are not allowed to use any other materials or tools other than those I provide though.

Each group gets exactly the same resources.

You might like to repeat the challenge the following week but change the materials supplied. This benefits the children by helping them build on prior knowledge. You will notice them incorporate newly learned ideas a second time around.

Sharing time

It is very important to review and reflect on the STEAM challenge with the children. This reflection helps the children process their learning and thinking. When the timer goes, we stop building immediately. After the initial “Ohhh Nooo!”, we clean up our work space. Then the children are free to walk around and observe other teams results. I often hearing them question each other or offer some constructive feedback to one another.

We will then return to the carpet meeting place and have a class discussion reflecting on the task. Some points we might discuss include:

  • How effective were the materials for this task?
  • What’s another material you would have liked included?
  • What problems did you face? How did you tackle that problem?
  • What was successful for you? Why?
  • Was there too much time allowed or not enough?
  • What would you change next time?
  • Did you see a great idea from another team?
STEAM challenge. Can you build a castle?
STEAM challenge. Can you make a tree?
STEAM challenge. Can you make a pyramid?

Investigation Prompts

I have a play-based classroom. The STEAM activity cards I have designed play a vital role as provocations in my investigation areas.

I use them regularly at the play dough table, in the box construction area, at the wooden blocks, with lego and at the collage table. The prompt card I choose to display always relates to a current curriculum learning intention. I plan and design specific provocations around both the learning intention and the resources I have.

3D Shape Provocation:   When we were learning about 3D shapes, I set up this provocation on a small table. Desert sand (purchased at the pet shop) was placed in a tray. Next to the tray, I offered some small wooden blocks, some glass gems and a few pop sticks and matchsticks. These resources were presented in bowls next to the prompt card on display. I try to add something which is not obviously related to the task (like the glass gems). It’s interesting to see whether the children choose to use that material and what they do with it.

STEAM challenge. Pyramid building prompt.
STEAM Challenge. Farm prompt

Farm Provocation:   When we were learning about living things and their habitats,  I added this STEAM prompt to our blocks construction area. I offered some farm animals, blocks, fabric and stones. Sometimes the children will get a resource from another part of the classroom and I encourage that resourceful thinking. These STEAM challenges are not as strict as the whole class activities.

Another strategy I have found useful is to take the STEAM prompt from a whole class challenge and then place it in an investigation area the following week. This is a wonderful way to have children expand their thinking and build on what they learned in the whole class lesson.

Looking for STEAM activities to challenge your children?

You will love these 30 STEAM cards. I designed them as stimulus prompts for children exploring concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. These inviting prompts will help your children develop their higher order thinking skills by challenging them to think both creatively and critically.

You will receive a .pdf file containing 30 STEAM Prompt cards. They are presented in A4 format but can easily be reduced in size by choosing the tiled option on your printer. You might like to print 2 or 4 to a page. I do recommend printing them at a high quality to achieve the stunning quality.

Alphabet play dough mats in Queensland Beginners Font

How to Teach Phonics with Play dough

Playdough is always a favourite in my classroom. It’s ideal to use that interest for reinforcing educational skills and concepts. That’s the beauty of a play-based classroom. You can teach phonics and consolidate phonemic skills through the provocations and learning invitations you provide.

Playdough is a wonderful sensory experience. When you stimulate any of the 5 senses (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting or hearing) you are helping the brain to develop. When you ignite the senses of children, neural pathways are created in the brain. Current brain research suggests that sensory learning experiences will help children to LEARN more and RETAIN more too.

How to teach phonics with playdough?

Play dough by itself stimulates the sense of touch. Adding an essential oil to play dough will ignite the sense of smell.  Now 2 senses are being stimulated and those neural pathways in the brain are being created. If you want to teach or reinforce a phonics concept, add a phonics stimulus to the mix. The first phonics stimulus I always add is an alphabet play dough mat. This is how I teach alphabet letter symbols with playdough. Allow the children to feel the letters as they squeeze, roll and bend the playdough. They will be creating and accessing brain pathways through their sense of touch, smell and sight. When they form letters with the playdough you will be teaching phonic concepts they will remember.

koala play dough mat

The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. Our apparatus for educating the senses offers the child a key to guide his explorations of the world, they cast a light upon it which makes visible to him more things in greater detail than he could see in the dark, or uneducated state. (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)

I like to add props to my playdough table. This enhances the sensory learning experience even further. I use the props to teach and reinforces our focus letter sound. This is how to teach phonics with playdough.

For some information on phonological awareness or phonemic awareness, and how they relate to the teaching of phonics, please read this blog post.

Adding props to the play dough also develops more creative and critical thinking. The children will experiment and problem solve with the play dough and the props. Adding some well-planned and thoughtful props transforms a simple play dough experience into a learning provocation. You will also have the bonus of extending their oral language as they discuss the new props.

Choose props to match your phonics focus

As i already mentioned, the first prop I add to the play dough is one of my phonics playdough mats. I carefully designed each mat with a phonics theme in mind. For instance, when I use the /Hh/ mat with the beautiful image of herbs as the background, I also add either a vase of cut herbs or a small herb plant to the play dough provocation. The children’s fine motor skills can be further developed by adding scissors to cut some of the herbs. These cut herbs can be added to their playdough. Their sense of smell is awakened as they smell the cut and crushed herbs.

This learning provocation now encourages

  • open ended creative play
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • extensive vocabulary development
  • added sensory stimulation
  • further development of fine motor skills

We all know how important revision and practice is in learning. You can’t teach a child once and expect them to have learnt the new letter and its corresponding sound. A new phonics concept needs to have exposure numerous times. It needs to be included in many diverse sensory experiences. The greater the number of opportunities, the stronger the brain and memory can connect, learn and remember. The more varied the opportunities, the stronger the brain and memory can connect, learn and remember.

Herb play dough alphabet mat for sensory play
play dough provocation props

How I teach phonics in my classroom

At my school, we teach phonics using The Jolly Phonics Program. At the beginning of the Prep year we focus on 3 sounds over 2 weeks. I explicitly teach each letter, sound and action. Then the children practice and revise these concepts during our investigation time. The play dough table is just one place in my room where they can do this.

Using my play dough phonics mats and related phonemic props to teach phonics means I need to change the play dough table around quite regularly.  It’s very easy to create a new learning experience with little effort. To introduce a brand-new provocation, all I need to do is swap the mat and a few props. The new props bring new learning opportunities. Oh, and the minute you add something new to an area, I can guarantee they’ll be lining up to get there.

 By providing students with materials that they can physically manipulate, play with and explore, teachers help them learn more about the world and develop crucial skills that they will utilize later in life. (Caitrin Blake, Concordia University Nebraska)

The letters featured in my mats are in Queensland Beginners Font.  You might like to have these beautiful mats in your classroom to help you teach phonics at your play dough table. The pack contains 40 mats in A4 size. They each have an authentic photograph background reflecting the associated phoneme. Every 26 letters of the alphabet are represented at least once. There are two mats for each vowel, with both the long and short vowel sounds included.  For repeated use, be sure to laminate the mats or slide them into a sheet protector before using them.

Everything we know about the world and ourselves has come through our senses (Bogdashina, Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome)

I tend to make one batch of play dough each term. You will love my favourite play dough recipe. It lasts for ages and doesn’t need refrigeration. You can find it here.

how to teach phonemic awareness and early reading skills

How to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Before you can expect a child to read or write, you need to be teaching phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness can be broken into four main skills. The first of these is the ability to hear and isolate sounds (phonemes) in words.  The next two skills a child needs to master are the blending and segmenting of phonemes. The final skill is phoneme manipulation. I have found this is usually the most difficult of the four phonemic awareness skills.

Isolating Phonemes

This is where children need to be investigating both the producing and hearing of phonemes – sounds. Getting children to listen and watch you produce a sound helps them to isolate phonemes.

Ask them to copy you and make the sound too. They should be noticing the position of their mouth and tongue when they do it. It can be a little easier for some children to have access to a mirror when they are producing different sounds. A mirror helps them see and copy the mouth positions.

Tongue twisters are a fun activity that children always love. Have them repeat or create tongue twisters to reinforce the isolation of phonemes. You can download some tongue twisters here.

Picture and word sorting are fantastic activities for exploring phoneme isolation. I have some picture sorts available in my store. These picture sorts are designed to focus on initial sounds in words. The position of the phoneme in each word has a different level of difficulty. The initial sound in a word is the easiest to hear and isolate.

Blending and Segmenting Phonemes

Before you tackle the blending and segmenting of sounds, it is important that your students have a solid understanding of letter, sound and word concepts. Children need to be able to differentiate between these concepts before you begin any blending and segmenting activities.

Phoneme Bingo is a game to develop phonemic awareness

I designed a phoneme bingo game to build phonemic awareness in beginning readers. I use this phonemic awareness game to teach my students how to blend and segment the sounds/phonemes within words. Some other activities to help teach the blending and segmenting of phonemes are:

  • count the phonemes in words
  • play with a puppet that emphasises initial, medial or final sounds “look at that c-a-a-a-t”
  • use an elastic band to demonstrate segmenting by stretching the band and saying the word slowly at the same time

Manipulating Phonemes

One of the most difficult of the phonemic awareness skills requires children to substitute, delete and add phonemes to words. I have had success with this skill once children have started formal reading and writing. We make words in numerous ways. We use magnetic letters, rock letters (letters written on flat pebbles) and scrabble tiles. I always begin with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. When the children can make CVC words quite competently, we start swapping letters out to make new words. If you can make cat, you can make mat, fat, sat, pat, bat etc.

Research indicates that phonemic awareness in young students is one part of an effective reading program. The teaching of phonemic awareness is most successful when there is an explicit focus on recognising and manipulating sound units— phonemes.

This Phoneme Bingo game has helped the students in my class recognise and manipulate phonemes. They love playing this game. It has been great to see them gain confidence and experience success with their phonemic awareness skills.

This .pdf file contains a call sheet and 18 bingo cards. Each card has 6 pictures. I have used stock photos for the pictures as I like the authenticity of real life images. Your students will instantly recognise the pictures on each card. Instructions for playing are included along with some information on phonemic awareness.

 

This game is easily differentiated to suit the developmental level of your students. Some ideas for differentiation are included.

Check out my blog post on Phonological Awareness if you would like to read more about phonemic awareness and other pre-reading skills.
Play dough Flowers. A sensory number provocation

Play dough Flowers— Number Provocations

I always link the provocations in my play-based investigation areas to our class learning intentions. I designed these play dough flowers for some number provocations I had in mind. They have turned out to be quite a handy resource.

I’ve frequently used them to teach number concepts in a variety of ways. I have been using them in quick transition activities, math warm-ups and also in whole class math games. They have been useful as a resource for my explicit teaching lessons too.  These flowers are ideal for use in quite a few different number provocations. I’ve outlined some number provocations and a few other ideas below.

These number flowers are a great addition to your playdoh table
Number provocation at the play dough table
Play dough provocation with printable flowers

I wanted a hands-on, sensory provocation to teach some number concepts. These flowers were originally designed to be used at the play dough table. The children loved them and before long number provocations started popping up everywhere! It seems I’m grabbing them more often for other areas in my classroom too.

They have come in handy when we study living things (plants) in Science. I always get them out for Spring. Our classroom is full of flowers in Spring.

Here are some of the ways I have used these Number Flowers in my classroom:

As number provocations in our Investigation Areas
  • In sensory tubs with sand, dirt, gravel or rice and a few empty plant pots, some gardening gloves and a couple of gardening trowels.
  • As a stimulus at the play dough table with either plant pots or cups so they can squash the play dough into the cup and plant their flowers.
  • With flower pots in the Dramatic Play space or just in a large vase for rearranging.
  • In a plant pot or vase as a display at the Science Nature table.
  • With counters and a number line at the Math table.
  • With some tins and cups at the Blocks area.
As a game, math warm-up or transition activity—give each child a flower
  • (numerals & words) and ask them to find their matching flower friend.
  • Or find a flower friend one more than you (or one less, before you or after you on the number line).
  • Ask them to put themselves in order (make a number line).
  • Put a large vase (or small bucket) at the front of the room and count forwards, backwards or skip count together. When a child’s flower is said, they put their flower in the bucket.
  • Sit in a circle and give clues to the secret flower eg: I’m the number before 7. The correct flower child stands up.
  • Make 2 sitting lines down each side of the carpet area. Give the children in one line numeral flowers and the other line number word flowers. The lines face each other and the teacher either says a number or a number clue. The children with the correct flower stand up and run across the middle carpet space to swap places. We call this game, Cross the River.

The .pdf file contains 42 number flowers in a variety of colours. They have been made using Queensland Beginner’s Font. Both numerals and words for numbers 0 to 20 are included. They have been designed to be printed on A4 paper or card. There are 6 flowers to each page. If you wanted them to be a smaller size, you could tile the printing to have 12 flowers to a page.

CVC Sentences to develop Decoding Fluency from My Teaching Cupboard

CVC Sentences to Develop Decoding Fluency

Looking for decodable texts that are authentic?

Simple decodable texts from My Teaching Cupboard

Give your beginning reader success and a joy of reading with decodable texts.

Teaching a child to read must be explicit and follow a developmental sequence. In the first stage of reading, a child is learning the relationship between letters and sounds and between print and spoken words.

The texts given to a beginning reader must be simple with a combination of a few sight words and some easy to sound-out words. Decodable texts are just that!

CVC words, consonant – vowel – consonant words, are the easiest to decode or sound-out.

Successful Readers Draw Upon Six Skills When They Are Reading

  1. Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear and identify the separate words in a sentence and the separate syllables and sounds within words.
  2. Letter-sound relationship: knowing the sound that goes with each letter.
  3. Sounding out or decoding words: using their letter-sound relationship knowledge to sound out words.  This is called decoding.
    These two kinds of knowledge (letter-sound correspondence and decoding) are called the alphabetic principle.
  4. Fluency: the ability to read accurately and quickly without the need to stop and decode. It is important that the reader is still comprehending and understanding the text they are reading.
  5. Vocabulary: knowledge of what words mean.
  6. Comprehension: understanding and gaining meaning from the text.

First a child must develop their phonemic awareness.

It is the vital pre-requisite to formal phonics instruction. When children know all their single letter sounds they are ready to start decoding words phonetically.

The ability to decode words phonetically is an important skill for the beginning reader. It lays the foundation to becoming a competent, fluent reader. If a child cannot decode words, their reading will not be fluent. Their reading comprehension skills will be poor too.

Sounding out words – decoding is an important part of becoming a fluent reader. Children competent in phonemic awareness, concepts of print and letter/sound relationships (phonics) quickly master decodable texts. In no time they are ready to read other books with richer and varied vocabulary.

CVC sentences to develop decoding fluency from My Teaching Cupboard

Decodable readers are the stepping stones to becoming a fluent, confident reader.

CVC flip sentences to develop fluency in decoding. Help build reading success in the beginning reader. From My Teaching Cupboard.

In my classroom, I often found my students were quite competent at sounding out words in isolation. However, they were having difficulty transferring this skill to their guided reading texts. The answer to this transference problem lies in practice. Practice in reading decodable texts is a necessity.

I found that most of the decodable reading books available to the beginning reader were not very authentic in their sentence structure or story line. To solve this problem, I designed these Flip Sentences.

The sentences in this resource are simple in structure with authentic content. They are helping my beginner readers develop automatic decoding skills and building their fluency. More importantly though, my children are enjoying success as readers and their confidence and enthusiasm is growing daily.

The 56 sentences contain common sight words

along with decodable CVC words.

I usually use these Flip Sentences in my small group Literacy Rotations. Children work with a partner. One child reads the first sentence and their partner follows along. If the sentence is read fluently, the listening partner says, “flip it”.

The reader flips the sentence over to reveal the matching illustration. This gives the children an opportunity to self-check their reading accuracy. The children then swap roles with the listening partner becoming the reader and decoder.

They really love this activity. I get requests for the Flip Sentences often.

The sight words in my Flip Sentences are:

I, am, a, we, to, and, here, my, little, go, come, see, like, she, look, he, the, me